Buzz the Bee, once the mascot for Honey Nut Cheerios, was known for pitching the cereal and its claims to lower cholesterol. However, there are healthier ways to lower cholesterol – ones that Buzz never addressed – than eating processed foods.
High up on the list: Grapes.
Zhaoping Li, MD, PhD, chief of the division of clinical nutrition at UCLA Health, says grapes have proven to be a more efficient way to lower cholesterol than many of the processed foods that promise the same result. And that’s not the only health benefit of the grape.
“It also gives us nutrients that feed our gut bacteria, making the microbiome a much better community of good bacteria while promoting gut health,” Dr. Li says.
Grapes contain fibers and various phytonutrients: catechins, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, leucoanthocyanidin, quercetin, kaempferol, stilbenes, ellagic acid and hydroxycinnamates. Dr. Li says those phytonutrients not only are responsible for the color of grapes, but also for their cholesterol-lowering attributes and for strengthening the immune system.
Grapes traditionally have not been regarded as a food that could lower cholesterol, but more as a fruit that contains a lot of sugars. Sugar may contribute to high cholesterol. However, recent studies at UCLA Health have found grapes to be a source of multiple vitamins and nutrients.
Other great qualities of grapes
Among those phytonutrients in grapes, the most well known is resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes that has anti-inflammatory properties which fight against certain diseases. It is also found in other plant-based foods such as peanuts and berries and can be used to treat ailments such as arthritis and digestive tract infections.
“That’s the reason we think drinking a small portion of red wine is helpful in preventing heart disease,” Dr. Li says, “because the resveratrol found in grapes is an antioxidant and it was shown to promote longevity in animal studies.”
Earlier research has shown that eating grapes has a number of benefits for the body, such as:
Grapes can improve the function of our organs. Studies have shown that consuming grapes results in a reduction of inflammatory markers around the liver and kidneys. In some cases, it can also reduce fat weight in the liver, kidneys and abdominals.
Resveratrol reduces inflammation and can block cancer cells from growing. The antioxidants in grapes reduce oxidative stress and fight free radical molecules that often damage cells and can lead to cancer.
Grapes are a great source of potassium, which is linked to lowering blood pressure. Eating them can also help decrease high systolic blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease. Systolic blood pressure is the upper number in your blood pressure measurement. It represents the pressure generated on the artery walls when the heart beats.
Not only are grapes high in potassium, but they are high in vitamin C, which is crucial for fighting bacterial and viral infections. Resveratrol plays a huge role in helping the body fight against germs as well.
The nutrients in grapes help break down fat cells in your body and make it difficult for your cells to store fat. Grapes also contain a small amount of fiber, which aids in the prevention of weight gain.
Grapes can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Eating them regularly instead of processed carbohydrates may help your body increase insulin sensitivity, which enables the body to more easily break down glucose.
Resveratrol’s ability to reduce oxidative stress can benefit the brain. Eating grapes can help to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, two neurological conditions associated with oxidative stress.
We already know that grapes are high in both potassium and vitamin C. However, they are a source of three other minerals that can improve health as well: vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. All three are linked to bone health.
Alternative to processed foods
Eating a half-cup of grapes (16) daily as part of a healthy diet can produce amazing results. However, be careful not to overeat grapes, because too many can cause acidity and irritation in the stomach.
Dr. Li adds that eating grapes while consuming a diet of highly processed foods can hinder positive nutritional results from grapes.
“Eating natural foods like grapes is good,” Dr. Li says. “You want to eat them as a replacement to the processed foods. Food quality really matters.”
To learn more about grapes, the benefits of fruits, or to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist, please visit the clinical nutrition website.